Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office finds new way to push program addressing teen violence

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FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office is trying to reach teenagers and set them on the right path.

The agency adopted a program last year called Decision Points. It’s meant to teach young teenagers about the potential consequences from gun violence, gangs and crime.

“Where we saw a need to address these senseless acts of violence, at the sheriff’s office we definitely consider something like that of the utmost importance. So, we definitely wanted to do what was necessary to try curtail those activities much as possible,” Sgt. Charles Neblett with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office School Resource Officer program said.

The initial plan was to launch the program in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. School resource officers were planning on teaching in four seventh grade classrooms starting last April.

“The research that we have shown that we have the ability to change perspectives a little bit more kind of this age group so that was that was our initial focus,” Sgt. Neblett said.

The class is meant to be tied into Health Class. It was designed to be spread out over five instructional days. Two of the days would focus on emotional health, where teachers would guide lessons on avoiding impulsive behaviors and handling stress.

Then the school resource officers would take over the lessons, sharing videos involving student actors going through situations including gangs, gun violence and the possible consequences.

The move to remote learning put those plans on hold.

The sheriff’s office continued to focus on bringing the program to these young teenagers and kids though. They have been partnering with community resources to bring the program to students in the community, helping teach them about their decisions.

A big part of the program is the focus on gun violence. When the program was initially launched, it was in part in response to the growing amount of violent crimes and gun crimes involved teenagers. In the last week, at least two incidents of gun violence were reported in Winston-Salem, including one where a 14-year-old was shot. That teenager is expected to recover.

Sgt. Neblett says this program is one way they’re able to reach these teenagers before something bad happens.

“If the only time that we’re able to reach out to young people is in the midst of crisis, we’ll say regarding a criminal act, I think we kind of already lost ground if that was our only recourse. But we actually reach out from a preventative aspect as well,” he said.

This program also helps build the relationship between the school resource officers and the students. In part, becuase it’s the deputies and officers who are the ones leading the programs.

“An SRO officer is a mentor. The individual wears several different hats. We are not simply in place to incarcerate young people. It is about the mentoring experience, hopefully, so that a relationship is formed between young people and law enforcement. Therefore they are aware they have another resource to turn to in time of trouble,” Sgt. Neblett said.

He says the format of Decision Points also helps build the community relationships and overall set these kids on a better path.

“I think it helps combat some of the aspects of peer pressure that the young people are experiencing. So, it’s kind of a cliché but the whole village of raising a child, again as adults. The more of us saying proper things to young people, it puts us in a position to stay with them in the right direction,”

Sgt. Neblett says the work doesn’t end after the program is over. They want to continue to build these relationships, and work to reach as many kids as possible. They do want to include the class during the next school year.

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